What to think about if you're looking for child care

Finding consistent, high-quality child care is always a challenge for employees with young children. Here are some tips for faculty and staff to keep in mind if they are looking to arrange child care starting this summer or fall, provided by Cris Broshar, WorkLife and family services coordinator.

Start now

There are child care openings available in the Ames area, for sure. The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) child care availability map lists 83 openings, not including unregistered child care homes and providers in the surrounding communities. But capacity may be down slightly due to closures during the pandemic and continued safety precautions. Regardless, it's wise to make child care arrangements months in advance of when care is needed, and the start of school in the fall is the busy season for child care turnover.

"Child care providers as a whole tend to be planners. They always like to have their full enrollment set," Broshar said. "It's important for parents and guardians to do this work now."

Identify needs

The first step in looking for a child care provider is determining what type of care is needed and when. Think about your family's schedule. Is full-time care necessary? If so, for what hours? Would flexibility be beneficial? Also inventory what other features are important: stability, group size, location and so on.

"Having a list of needs is helpful when a family is contacting providers to inquire about openings," Broshar said.

Consider settings

Whether to place a child in a center or with a home-based provider comes down to preference. Each has pros and cons. Centers stay open more reliably due to their larger staffs, care for more children separated by age group and may offer early education curriculum. Some parents appreciate the intimacy and family-like setting of a home-based provider, but they may close more frequently as they're typically operated by one person. Center fees tend to run higher than for home-based providers.

Who can help

Parents can search for child care online using the DHS portal or the Iowa Child Care Resources and Referral (CCRR) portal, but Broshar recommends contacting a CCRR parent referral specialist at 855-244-5301 or childcare@caeiowa.org to have them provide a list of possible providers.

"They're kind of the best-kept secret for families looking for child care," she said. "Their services are free, and they work really hard to keep the most up-to-date information about programs in the area."

Do the research

When considering a provider, be sure to search their names in the DHS database of child care reports, which includes recent records of complaints and compliance inspections. Also take a look at whether the provider participates in the state's voluntary quality rating system, which gives ratings up to five stars for additional enhancements beyond standard licensing rules.

Home-based providers don't necessarily have to be licensed by the state. Unregistered child care homes can care for up to five children, a limit increasing to six July 1. Registered providers, called child development homes, are subject to state regulations and requirements that depend on their registration level. CCRR's parent guide has a detailed explanation of the various registration levels.

Keep irons in the fire

It's best to explore a number of possibilities when searching for child care, especially when placing your child on a waiting list. Don't hesitate to get on multiple waiting lists, Broshar said. Spots are often snapped up quickly.

Seeking support

Looking for some encouragement in all this? Connect with the Cyclone Family Network, a new program offered by ISU WorkLife this summer. The virtual meetings will be held every Monday (11 a.m.-noon, via Zoom) starting June 7. Broshar said the goal is to offer open-ended sessions for faculty, staff and post-docs to socialize and informally discuss issues impacting their families, the sort of conversation that was common in workplaces before the pandemic. Anyone is welcome to join.